Could you spot someone drowning?
It is a common misconception that drowning is a big, flailing, obvious fuss - but of course you’d be able to spot someone drowning, right?
Outside of Hollywood, in the little bubble I sometimes refer to as ‘reality’, drowning is often inconspicuous to onlookers. Due to the instinctive drowning response, waving and yelling often becomes impossible. While distress and panic may sometimes take place beforehand (referred to as aquatic distress syndrome), drowning itself is deceptively quick and often silent. Whilst drowning, you are unable to keep your mouth above water long enough to breathe properly and so you can’t make a noise. Involuntary actions of the autonomic nervous system override what would be voluntary responses such as waving and instead cause lateral flapping or paddling with the arms to press them down into the water in an attempt to resurface, with little to no leg movement.
To an untrained observer, it may not be obvious that a drowning person is in distress - they may appear to be swimming safely before fully submerging just 20-60 seconds later.
In emergency situations in which lifeguards or other trained personnel are not present, it is advisable to wait for the victim to stop moving or sink before approaching, rescuing, and attempting to resuscitate. While the instinctive reaction to drowning is taking place, victims latch onto any and all solid objects in attempts for air, which can result in the drowning of a would be rescuer as well as the victim. The event called ‘AVIR Syndrome’ (Aquatic Victim Instead of Rescuer) has killed over 100 would-be rescuers in Australia and over 80 would-be rescuers in New Zealand.
Random fact: 80% of drowning victims are male.
(Check out the source for important facts and figures on drowning)